There is no doubt Jamaica has the fastest sprinters in the world. This tiny island country of just 3 million has awed the world with it’s speed on racing track. In the last two editions of Summer games, Jamaica has won more sprint gold medals than other racing powerhouses like USA, Britain and Canada.
Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell are now the fastest ever. Powell is second only to Maurice Greene in the sub 10 second category. Bolt has 3 of the top ten 200m times in history. Michael Johnson has only 2. The 2 Jamaican men have broken the world record 3 times.
The incredible performance of Usain Bolt and other Jamaican has led many people to ask, ‘what is the secret to the success of the Jamaican sprinters?’
Experienced Sprint Coaches in Jamaica
There are many reasons why this small country has been able to churn out world beating sprinters. The first explanation has to be the pool of talented and experienced coaches in jamaica. Researchers on Jamaica athletics attribute the success to Dennis Johnson, the father of college level sprinting in Jamaica. Dennis Johnson was coached by Loyd C “Bud” Winter a legendary sprint coach in the US. When Johnson returned to Jamaica he brought many of Winter’s ideas to the island. Though Jamaica’s sprint program is basic at first glance, their coaches are highly experienced and knowledgeable. Glen Mills, Usain Bolt’s coach was also responsible for the success experienced by Raymond Stewart a world class sprinter of the eighties. Stephen Francis, Asafa Powell’s coach has other successful athletes such as Sherone Simpson, Michael Frater and Brigitte Foster-Hylton. The coaches have an attention to detail and technique. The facilities are basic and run-down in comparison to other sprint programs in the US, but according to Denis Shaver a top US coach, the Jamaicans have many talented individuals. At the University of Technology in Jamaica, athletes train on a grass track that is uneven and bumpy. The track lines are burnt into the surface with diesel because they can’t afford the weekly marking of chalk on the grass. The weights room is basic and equipped with old rusty machinery.
Advantage of Training on Grass
Yet, could it be that the basic facilities available to Jamaican sprinters is part of the reason for their success? Most world class sprint programs train on synthetic surfaces made of rubber. The Jamaicans’ train on both but predominantly on grass. Sprinting on different surfaces can influence the amount of work done by muscles in the legs. For example, sprinting on a soft surface will require muscles to work harder than on a hard surface. On a soft surface the body must work harder to stabilize itself. Muscles will try to stretch as little as possible to allow the tendons to do much of the work. This over time will lead to stronger muscles. Training on a softer surface will require tendons to become more stretchy (compliant) to store energy and release it as the foot leaves the ground. Being forced to make do with grass as their main training surface could well be an advantage to the Jamaicans. The Jamaican coaches insist on a high volume of hill work all year round. Sprinting uphill provides specific stress to the muscles responsible for accelerating the body to top speed in the short sprints.